Sonia Hays caught up with the remarkable business leaders Schauna, Alisha and Nadia Chauhan, CEO, Director, and Joint MD, respectively, of Parle Argo for a friendly chat on family, work and being in positions of influence
The Chauhan sisters – Schauna, Alisha and Nadia – have been well-known for their business ventures across the globe. Titles such as ‘Most Influential Woman of India’, ‘Most Powerful Business Woman’, ‘Most Powerful Woman’ and more are constantly bestowed upon these siblings by leading organisations, but they stay true to their roots and continue to empower their employees through their perseverance and hard work. The sisters share their experiences in this exclusive interview with Culturama.
Can you share a little about your role in Parle Agro and working with your sisters?
Shauna: Since we have such demarcated spaces between each one of our responsibilities, there is a wonderful positive synergy between us. Of course, we do have our differences at times, which we resolve. I know when I go to one of my sisters for advice, I can rely on it. If one of us is doing something wrong, we can tell each other with absolute trust. Nadia: I never joined the company at this position (Managing Director and Chief Marketing Officer), but grew into it over a period of almost 18 years. I joined as part of the marketing team and worked on small projects towards revitalising Frooti as a brand. Slowly I started handling many other functions and building larger teams.
Alisha: I handle the CSR for the company. I have started a foundation in my father’s name – the Prakash Jayantilal Chauhan Foundation. We have undertaken a few projects such as infra development of Anganwadis. I hope to be doing a lot more in this department.
How has your father, Prakash Chauhan, a successful businessman himself, influenced you?
Shauna: I don’t think our father thought twice about giving his three daughters this opportunity. I took my time to learn till I could gradually blend and merge in with the company. I spent a good amount of my time learning, observing and finding out my strengths and weaknesses.
Nadia: As a child, I watched my father; he’s my hero. His unconventional approach and his joy in dealing with problems taught me how to tackle each challenge through the power of simplicity. I remember even at the age of 11, coming to the office, attending meetings with him, being part of product launches and more. At that point, I used to wonder what he really expected from me. But he would always say, ‘if you just absorb 1% of what you hear, that is more than enough’, and I do think that experience gave me so much more than I’d expect. When I finally joined the company, I was already a part of the journey.
Were you encouraged by your father to take on the company?
Nadia: From a very young age, we were always kept involved. Besides just involving us, if we had ideas, he allowed us to own them and take them forward. He’d repeat the question ‘why’ multiple times until he felt that he saw enough conviction in me to drive a particular idea. He allowed me to take many risks early in my career – thankfully, they paid off – but truly it’s heroic of him to trust and encourage us the way he has.
Shauna: Our father has mentored us greatly. He gave me an opportunity and allowed me to freely explore it. He always was the go-to person for when I had all doors closed. And, most importantly, he involved me in everything and always asked for my opinion. This gave me a lot confidence.
How is the family dynamics at work and outside?
Nadia: We have clear, defined roles. We have grown to respect each other in our roles tremendously; at work, we catch up on things that we might need to discuss during lunchtime; and outside of work, our time together is mostly dictated by our kids. All our kids are around the same age and are extremely close.
How difficult is to run a million dollar business in a man’s world?
Nadia: It’s a matter of how you go about doing it. Your own approach. Often, I’ve been in meetings where I’m the only woman, surrounded by over 40 men. But that has never intimidated me, and I believe the way I’ve managed myself is what eventually impacts the response you get from your male counterparts.
What do you think are some of the qualities required to be an empowered woman?
Alisha: For me, being empowered has nothing to do with my gender. It has to do with my sense of self-worth. It has to do with me knowing I have a right to, being confident to make my own decisions and to have control of my own life within my own home as well as out of it.
Nadia: Being empowered is a matter of more than just gender equality. It is about being true to who you are, about being strong and committed to what you are doing.
Shauna: It’s about your state of mind. Your environment, your confidence, your passion, your beliefs. It’s about believing in yourself.
What is your source of inspiration or the woman who has influenced your life the most?
Nadia: There are two women who have inspired my life the most – my mother and my daughter. Both have taught me to be strong and pure.
Alisha: My parents have had the biggest influence in my life. They made us responsible for our own choices, starting from a young age. We were given the space to make our choices and, of course, inevitably some mistakes as well and work our way back from it. But, most importantly, being behind us rock solid.
Shauna: My mum has been my biggest inspiration.
How do you inspire other women who work for you?
Nadia: Lead by example. I remember, during both my pregnancies I was in office till minutes before I was admitted to the hospital. I was back in office 15 days after the kids were born and I was working from home, with meetings at home on the 7th day. I do think that if you do what you love, if you are committed and passionate about it, there is nothing that can ever stop you from achieving your goals. You have to work with fearless determination to achieve your goals.
What advice would you give to young women starting their careers?
Nadia: Do what you love, and do it with your full heart and soul. Work hard and fearlessly to achieve the goals that you set for yourself. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that your dream is difficult to achieve; if you think you can, you will!
Shauna: It’s a quote from Dr. Seuss: ‘You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, You can steer yourself in any direction you choose, You’re on your own, And you know what you know
You are the person who’ll decide where to go.’